Last week in Los Angeles during the E3 Expo, we had the chance to meet with numerous video game executives and decided to ask each about their perspectives on marketing. In Part 1 of this feature we bring you insights from Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime, Microsoft's Albert Penello, and THQ's Danny Bilson.
Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America President
[a]list: I know you have a very diverse marketing background. You worked for Guinness; you worked for VH1, correct? Now that you’ve been in this video game business for seven, eight years, how do you see sort of the differences in marketing these video game products versus something like beer?
Reggie Fils-Aime: You know, in the end, marketing is about communicating compelling propositions in a way to excite the consumer. From that standpoint, the similarities between my past and what we’re doing here at Nintendo are quite significant, especially when Nintendo is an extremely consumer-oriented company. We always think of the consumer first. What I would say, maybe, is surprisingly refreshing about, at least our business, is just the fantastic age range that we market to. Everything from young children, to their parents, and their grandparents, we’ve been able to effectively message to them in very compelling ways. That is very provocative from a marketer's standpoint because, typically, the marketer thinks of a narrowly defined demographic target. Marketing textbooks will tell you the better you can define your target, the better you will be. With us that is true, but for every software title, and as you layer all the software titles together, you get this massive addressable market. That is very interesting in my view, at least from Nintendo’s perspective about this gaming market.
Albert Penello, senior director of global marketing for Xbox 360
[a]list: In general, with these triple-A games costing so much money, anywhere from $40 million to $80 million or even $100 million, I'm wondering in order to recoup the costs on the development, if you really want to get huge exposure, almost like Hollywood campaign-type style, exposure for these blockbuster games. Just how crucial is it to have a marketing initiative, sort of that Hollywood style, for these games to actually get that money back and get the people interested in the product and brand?
Albert Penello: Part of deciding to go do games that expensive is that you’ve got to decide that you’re going to do a marketing campaign right behind it. The good news is, while I wish it didn’t cost what it cost to produce games, the market is certainly there, much like blockbuster movies, to recoup a ton of money. I think it’s great that we can support things like indie games. I think it’s great that we can do, you know, a little bit more polish, a little bit higher production arcade games and still sort of get some of that core, good, old-fashioned, old-school type of games inexpensively. And then you know what, just like every studio goes and spends $200 million on a summer tentpole movie, we’re going to decide what our big bets are. We just announced Kingdoms; that’s going to be a big initiative for us. And, as part of that, you’ve just got to commit to doing a big marketing campaign. I think it’s great. I think it’s fun. It’s fun to do those types of marketing campaigns. It’s fun to have those types of games get made. And then, you know you offset the business risk by having these smaller indie games and these smaller arcade games, and that’s sort of what keeps everything going.
Danny Bilson, head of core games at THQ
[a]list: I’m curious, just from a marketing viewpoint with the way games are today, costing anywhere between, I don’t know, $40 million and $100 million or something…
Danny Bilson: Well not here, not here.
[a]list: The average triple-A game costs a hell of a lot to make.
DB: It does.
[a]list: Does that mean, to you, that an equally expensive marketing campaign, sort of Hollywood style, is needed to really back it up and really get the exposure it needs to recoup those costs?
DB: Well... I don’t think it’s about money. I think it’s about smart. I think it’s time to stop marketing games like games. So Homefront is absolutely an example of what I’m talking about. There’s nothing gamey about the marketing of that. We’re not overspending, but we’re certainly exposing it in really interesting ways. I think you can see it all over this show from the crazy parking lot stuff.
You really need to see our trailer, because one of the strategies in marketing, and this is cost saving on a side you might not expect, if the marketing team or PR team is constantly in the studio during development of a game saying, “need assets, need assets, make me a trailer, make me a trailer,” that’s all dev time not being used on the game. And having been a developer myself, when I got some control over marketing, I was like, “How can we market without game assets?” So I really encourage you to look at the Homefront back story trailer. It’s all over the booth or you can see it on the web, and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. And, again, we built it, it’s getting great response. It starts to talk about the world, it engages people in the game, but the team didn’t have to do one bit of work on it. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to show assets; of course we are. I just want to reduce it, and when I show them, I want to show it later in the production cycle when they really are real and really polished and the team isn’t making them up.
But as far as bigger cost against bigger game is, I think it’s about smarter. One of the bigger questions we have to ask ourselves is how important is television? How important is television to a core gamer on a non-television brand? So I think television has some relevance on WWE and UFC because I consider those TV brands. But our other stuff, I question it severely. It’s incredibly expensive, and what I can do with two million dollars, which will buy a few TV spots on a big sporting event, what I can do in outdoor, or on the web, or direct-to-consumer is way more exciting. You know I’ve grown up with television; I stopped watching it years ago, except for sports. I used to make television. I made it for many years. Some people love it, but I know I’m playing games, I’m not watching TV. You know where I want to market? I want to market on Xbox Live. I want to market on PSN, because every night that’s the switch I turn on at my house. And that front end comes, and those windows come, and all that marketing’s getting right to me because I’m a core gamer. That’s where I want to invest. Television is a big question mark for me. So those are kind of my points around marketing, but I'd like you to focus some of the examples…. Look at the example of Homefront. I feel like it’s a really effective campaign and it’s not a really costly campaign.